Category Archives: Uncategorized

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A Carbon Tax Isn’t Enough — Canada Needs More Nuclear

By John Barrett, President and CEO, Canadian Nuclear Association
Originally published in the National Post, December 18, 2018

Today, the big federal-provincial debate centres around Ottawa’s plan to introduce a carbon tax. Changes in provincial governments have brought premiers into office who are openly opposed to Ottawa’s plan. But, as a country, are we becoming too wrapped up in one specific policy to combat climate change?

Climate change mitigation cannot be successful through carbon pricing alone. By only focusing on this we are losing sight of the importance of ramping up our clean electricity capacity.

Global emissions continue to increase at a rapid pace and most G20 countries are not on track to meet their Paris commitments, according to a recent report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The sheer amount of clean electricity needed to meet future demand and help end energy poverty in the developing world will take all available generating sources.

Standing above all other options in sheer capacity to generate large quantities of clean electricity is nuclear energy. It is a solution that is proven and available now.

Greater progress required for a cleaner future

Canada’s nuclear reactor technology and uranium exports have contributed globally to the avoidance of millions of tonnes of CO2 over the last 30 years, by displacing fossil fuel sources.

Today, nuclear energy produces approximately 15 per cent of Canada’s electricity. In Ontario, it provides 60 per cent of the province’s electricity, and in New Brunswick, it provides 30 per cent.

Ontario is justly proud of phasing out coal generation. Contrary to what some people would have us believe, this was not due to variable renewable energy sources such as wind and solar coming online, but rather the refurbishment and subsequent coming online of Bruce Power nuclear reactors that made the end of coal a reality.

Last year, Sweden generated a whopping 95 per cent of its total electricity from zero-carbon sources, with 42 and 41 per cent coming from nuclear and hydroelectric power, respectively. France generated 88 per cent of its electricity from zero-carbon sources, with 72 and 10 per cent coming from nuclear and hydro sources. In both countries, the establishment of a fleet of nuclear power reactors during the 1970s and 1980s effectively decarbonized their electricity supply.

A plan for Canada and the world

While the contributions of wind and solar continue to climb, they cannot solve the immediate need. As they produce energy intermittently, they can’t run 24/7 and require backup generation, usually through fossil fuel sources, which add to GHG emissions.

By contrast, there is growing consensus for the need to ramp up nuclear. In April of 2014, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommended tripling the amount of energy use from nuclear and renewable sources to keep climate change within two degrees Celsius.

Furthermore, Canada’s Mid-Century Long-Term Low-Greenhouse Gas Development Strategy, released at COP22, included nuclear in all the models it espoused for achieving drastic GHG emission reductions by 2050.

The nuclear industry has innovative new reactor technologies under development. They are distinguished by their smaller size, lower costs, and diverse applications, from powering off-grid communities to heavy industrial processes to hydrogen production. This is what we call the new nuclear – and it’s on its way.

By using today’s proven nuclear power and tomorrow’s new nuclear, we have a chance in Canada to actually meet our GHG reduction targets and claim real leadership in the transition to a low-carbon future.

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Hurricane Florence no threat to nuclear power plants

Satellite image of Hurricane Florence

Nuclear power has once again withstood threats from Mother Nature.

Hurricane Florence, which battered the U.S. East Coast in September, was worse than predicted.

“Many of the dire predictions came true,” wrote Grist magazine reporter Eric Holthaus. “In the past few days, Hurricane Florence has become the worst rainstorm in history for North Carolina, as well as the entire East Coast.”

The four-day rainfall accumulation of nearly 36 inches, which was measured in Elizabethtown, North Carolina, is above the previous record for a hurricane anywhere on the East Coast. It broke the North Carolina record by nearly a foot.

In the lead-up week before Florence made landfall, the media was full of stories about how as many as nine nuclear reactors could be in its path.

According to Bloomberg News, out of the nine nuclear plants that were potentially in the path of Florence before the storm landed Friday, just one was forced to close.

Brunswick nuclear power plant in North Carolina

The Brunswick nuclear facility was the only one taken offline because of the Hurricane.

While there were concerns about access to the plant due to flooding in the wake of Florence, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a statement on September 18, to reassure the public about the situation.

“The plant’s two units remain shut down in a safe condition, and flooding in nearby areas has not affected the plant site,” the statement read. “While there are still some site access issues, it is possible to move personnel and supplies to and from the site. Access to the plant is expected to improve over the next couple of days.”

This is the second year in a row that nuclear power plants were tested in the U.S. South during hurricane season.

Last year, Florida’s two nuclear power plants withstood the fury of Hurricane Irma. Turkey Point and St. Lucie nuclear power plants which serve approximately 1.5 million customers are designed to withstand the natural force of such extreme events like hurricanes. Florida’s nuclear plants sit approximately 20 feet above sea level and are constructed to withstand the force of severe flooding and storm surges. Backup safety systems are also in place to ensure site safety.

Concerns about nuclear power plants being affected by hurricanes makes great headlines, but because of preparedness, problems are averted.

Ted Kury, director of energy studies at the University of Florida’s Public Utility Research Center, explained it best in a piece for The Conversation.

“To prevent accidents, the outer wall of reactor containment systems are made out of reinforced concrete and steel,” he wrote. “Since they are designed to withstand the impact of a large commercial airliner, flying debris – even if it’s propelled by 200 miles-per-hour winds – is unlikely to pose much of a threat.”

According to Kury, utilities prepare for storms by inspecting power stations, securing equipment, testing backup pumps and generators and stocking critical supplies in case workers have to stay on site.

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QP Briefing ads show nuclear is good for Ontario

Ad #1 online throughout July 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ad #2 online throughout September 2018.

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Hill Times ads promote the benefits of nuclear in Canada

Ad #1 published in the “Energy” brief on August 13, 2018.

Ad #2 published in the “Innovation” brief on October 1, 2018.

Ad #3 published in the “Energy” brief on December 3, 2018.

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Shocking Exposé: A Year with an Electric Car

By Morgan Brown, Nuclear Engineer and Systems Analyst, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories
Originally published in the North Renfrew Times, November 14, 2018

It began with a display by Ontario’s Plug’N Drive, a non-profit organization promoting electric vehicles (EVs).  They brought their EV Roadshow to Chalk River Labs in the spring of 2017, along with a plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt.  I was intrigued, and told Catharine all about it.  Fine, she said, and booked a visit to a Kia dealer in Ottawa the following weekend.  We went, we saw, they (the dealership) conquered; we purchased a 2017 all-electric Kia Soul, my post-mid-life-crisis car.

I had long wanted an EV, and they appeared to have come of age.  Normally I’m on the trailing edge of technology, content with what I have and without a desire for new toys.  But it was time to put money where my mouth was, especially with respect to reducing my impact on our one and only planet Earth (the one with no Plan B).  Electric cars, in a place like Ontario with low-emission electricity, have significantly lower lifetime overall environmental damage compared with an internal-combustion engine (ICE) vehicle like our SUV.  The reason I got into the nuclear business, some thirty years ago, was precisely because it has a relatively low impact on our world; it was now time to make a personal commitment.

The Kia Soul EV is similar to the ICE version, in terms of the exterior look and interior fittings.  There are a number of ICE versions in and around town – it’s a funky-looking useful car with a hatchback and room for five (ok, a bit squishy).  I have no problem transporting my bari sax, a not-inconsequential (foghornish?) music instrument.  The Kia (not the bari) has an 81 hp electric motor driving a single-speed transmission to the front wheels.  It can easily go over 100 km/h, despite how I drive; the pickup is pretty peppy from a standing start, due to very high torque.

The EV cost us $43,005 including all taxes, substantially more than the ICE version because of the expensive batteries.  We received an Ontario taxpayer subsidy (thank you!) of $14,000, bringing the price down to about that of the ICE Soul; frankly, the subsidy was a little rich and didn’t seem to have any mechanism for decreasing as EVs became cheaper, but that’s another story.  Note that, because the EV is more than $10,000 more expensive than the ICE version, we paid over $1500 more tax.

So what about the “lack of infrastructure” that gets bandied about?  That’s a fallacy – the infrastructure is everywhere in the form of standard 120 V outlets.  For the first few months we used only the Level 1 (120 V) charger with which the car was equipped.  Yes, it takes a long time to fully charge (about 24 h for 30 kWh), but we never fully drain the battery and rarely fully charge it.  Essentially the Level 1 charges at about 6 km per hour (a velocity?).  Plugged in overnight at off-peak prices gives about 2 round trips from our Deep River home to the Chalk River Labs.  Canadian Nuclear Laboratories has provided six EV Level 1 parking spots, which gives another nine hours charging when I drive the car pool; interestingly, the six spots are no longer enough for all the EV owners on site!

The Level 2 charger is the next step up, charging the batteries at 240 V.  We paid $1895 (including >$200 tax) to purchase and install such our Level 2 charger, but received a $747 taxpayer subsidy (again, thank you).  This charger is about six times faster; frankly, plugging in the car when needed is similar to plugging in a cell phone – no big deal!

We have used a fast charger once, namely the one at the Deep River Tim Horton’s, just to see how it worked.  While it charged the car to about 85% of full capacity (to avoid frying the battery) in under about one half hour, I estimated it cost 5 times the price we would pay at home!  However, we are appreciative that such charge stations are available.

So, how has the EV performed?  Our main driving is around town or to the CNL plant site.  Occasionally we take it to Pembroke or Petawawa, but leave the (rare) Ottawa trip for the SUV.  The full-charge range (nominally 149 km) varies from about 120 km in winter to 180 km in summer – the winter decrease is primarily due to the batteries being cold, although the electric heating also takes a toll.  It would be nice to have the ~10% greater range of the 2018 Kia Soul, and some claim the 2020 version may be as high as 350 km.  Regardless, our EV does a fine job, and we’ve moved on from “range anxiety” to “range awareness”.  The average electricity consumption (Sep 2017 – Aug 2018) was 16.2 kWh/100 km.  Assuming a 15% loss due to charging, and an average $0.19/kWh (our 2016 total electricity cost divided by total kWh), this works out to about $3.60 / 100 km.  An equivalent ICE Kia Soul, at 7.6 l/100 km (highway) and $1.20 per litre for gas, costs about $9.10 per 100 km.  If I use a much more accurate “incremental cost” of electricity and charge overnight, the cost is less than $3/100 km.

Overall we’re very pleased with the EV.  If we lived in a city, we would ditch the SUV, keep the EV, and rent a vehicle for long trips.  Sure, the EV lacks the range you might want, but things are improving.  The initial cost is higher but it is much cheaper to operate (did I mention the lack of oil changes?).  However, economics was not our prime motivator – it really does reduce our damage to the environment, and is fun to drive.

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Harriet Brooks’ great-great niece to inspire next generation of women in science

Canada’s first female nuclear physicist Harriet Brooks

Harriet Brooks was the first Canadian female nuclear physicist, who worked as a graduate student with Sir Ernest Rutherford at McGill University around the beginning of the 20th century.

She was among the first persons to discover radon and to try to determine its atomic mass.

Well known in Canadian nuclear circles, Brooks is not a household name like Marie Curie, under whose supervision Brooks briefly worked.

While Canadian Nuclear Laboratories recently named a nuclear research laboratory at Chalk River in her name and she is a member of the Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame, she hasn’t made an impact in the non-academic and non-science culture like Curie, who was honoured, for example, with a Google Doodle on the anniversary of her birth.

Now, 85 years after she passed away, one of her descendants is trying to bring her story to life on stage.

WONDER is a stage production in development about the gender barriers faced by Brooks. It is the first play written by Canadian actor Ellen Denny, Brooks’ great-great-niece.

“With this project, I hope to honour the countless women in science who have been silenced, and invigorate those who continue the fight for gender equity,” says Denny.

“It is also an important goal of mine to connect this historical science story and play of Harriet Brooks with the contemporary science community.”

Opening of the Harriet Brooks building at Canadian Nuclear Laboratories

Brooks left the world of physics at the peak of her career upon marriage to assume the occupation of wife and mother.

In an interview with Maclean’s magazine, Geoff Rayner-Canham, a chemistry professor at Newfoundland’s Memorial University who has written about Brooks, explained why she left the science community.

“What happened was that she got engaged to a physicist at Barnard College, which is an old women’s college in the States, and she told the dean she was planning to marry. The dean sent a letter back saying that she was not willing to have anyone in the department who put her work second, but didn’t think it was appropriate for a married woman to put her career before her family.”

While what happened to Brooks could be attributed to social mores at the time, Denny believes her story is relevant to the barriers that still exist for women today who balance career with family.

Canadian actress Ellen Denny

In a slick video on her Kickstarter campaign page she launched to fund the production, Denny lists some current stats on gender and science. For example, in 2010, just 12.4 per cent of physics faculty at Canadian universities were women and only 30 per cent of female high school students take physics, compared to 60 per cent of male high school students.

“The play WONDER is a chance to build a bridge between the science and arts communities, and to spark discussion about how to build workplaces with equitable opportunity for all,” she explains.

The reaction to Denny’s project has been positive so far. Her Kickstarter campaign to fund a workshop of the play has raised over $2,000, almost triple her original goal.

Before WONDER is ready for its premiere production it needs some time in the lab – in theatre this is called a “workshop.” One week of in-studio script development and physical exploration with a team of professional artists is slated for early 2019 and Denny is hard at work raising funds for this critical next step.

You can follow along with the development of WONDER on Twitter and #WonderThePlay.